A/N: Much as I wish it were otherwise, I don't own Twilight nor its characters.
This is my first fanfiction ever, and I'm really enjoying writing it. Hopefully you'll enjoy reading it as well :)
The mouthwatering fragrance of coriander and paprika filled the kitchen as the chicken bubbled gently in the sauté pan. I turned down the heat, allowing it to simmer slowly as Jasper wandered into the room, fresh out of the shower. His hair was still damp, and he brought with him the aroma of cedar with a hint of grapefruit from his shower gel.
Glancing over my shoulder at him, I couldn't help but giggle at the ridiculous grin on his face. He had talked of nothing but this night for the last several days. It was cute, really, how excited he was for me to meet his girlfriend.
I knew how much he must like this Alice girl. He usually didn't bother to bring them home, though I met them out somewhere eventually. Jasper and I had moved in together just before our freshman year in college, and he'd brought home exactly two girls in the five years since then. Alice would be the third, yet I'd never seen him act quite like this…
He was actually singing in the shower, humming silly songs as he…cleaned. Yes, he cleaned. What the fuck?
Shaking my head with a grin, I teased, "So what time are you picking her up, lover boy?"
He hopped up on the counter, plucking a slice of chicken from the pan and bouncing it from palm to palm to cool it.
"In about ten minutes." Again, that goofy grin.
"And what does she think of you living with a girl?" I arched my eyebrow and glanced at him as he popped the chicken into his mouth and closed his eyes, moaning softly. "Glad you approve," I grinned.
"She's not worried about that, Bells. She gets it. Besides, she knows she's the only girl I'm interested in…" He trailed off, a little dazed, silly look on his face.
"Must be some girl," I said, slightly disbelieving. "I don't know many who would say they're okay with their boyfriend living with another girl and actually mean it."
"I'm telling you…she's different. She's so smart and funny and kind and energetic and exuberant and beautiful and…perfect," his voice was barely a whisper by the end.
I smiled at him, but the protective side of me couldn't help but wonder. "And you've ascertained this in…what, three weeks?" I said as kindly as I could.
I turned on the back burner and reached into one of the lower cabinets for my double boiler, filling it with water before dumping the chocolate I'd already chopped for the dessert inside. I set it on the stove and returned my attention to Jasper to see that he was gazing ahead with a thoughtful look.
"I know how it sounds, Bella. Believe me, I do. But…this is me. When have I ever said anything like this before?" He gave a soft smile. "It's just…right. It is. And I know it's too soon, and I know you think I can't know her and that she'll break my heart, but…not her. She wouldn't. I don't think she could. She's in this just as deep as I am. I can just feel how much she loves me."
I stared at him for a moment, a bit stunned by his declaration. He was right – he never had talked this way about anyone…ever. Even Maria, the girl he dated for two years in college. All he ever said about her was that she was fun and they "had a good time together". We had both always known that relationship was going nowhere.
I thought for a moment and then smiled softly. "Then I can't wait to meet her, Jazz…truthfully. I want to see this girl who's turned my best friend into such a sap." I winked at him as I stirred the chocolate, watching it melt.
We stood for a few minutes in comfortable silence while I finished preparing the icing for the brownies that were currently in the oven. Once I stirred in the powdered sugar and vanilla, Jasper – nasty bastard that he is – stuck his finger right in the middle of it for a taste. I smacked the back of his hand with the wooden spoon I was holding, making an even bigger mess.
"Ouch, Izzy, that hurt!" He pouted.
I arched an eyebrow and said, "I'm so sorry, Casper," pulling out the nickname he'd hated in elementary school. "Seriously, are you trying to force me to poison your dinner?"
Grinning, he said, "Sorry, Bells. Honestly, thank you for cooking. I want to make a good impression, and you know I'm hopeless in the kitchen." His eyes crinkled at the corners as he gave me the smile I never could resist – his truly happy smile.
"No problem, Jazz. I'd be cooking for your sorry ass, anyway." I winked again and leaned back against the counter. "This way, I get to learn about your new lady love as well." I really was curious about her. He'd been dating her for the past three weeks, and during that time, he'd been so busy and totally preoccupied that we hadn't really had too much time to talk.
I glanced at the clock above the stove and gave him a playful shove on the shoulder. "You better get going…don't want to be late for your big date."
He hopped down off the counter and ran his fingers through his messy blonde hair, now nearly dry. He tickled my ribs as he went by me, making me twist and squirm as I stirred the chicken. When I heard the front door close, I poured the basmati rice into a pot on the stove, set the timer, and headed off to my room to get ready.
I pulled my hair up into a clip and started the shower before wandering into my room to lay out my clothes. I picked one of my favorite shirts – a black long-sleeved Rage Against the Machine T-shirt that Jasper bought me at Coachella a couple of years ago – decided that my current jeans were still in good shape, and tossed both along with fresh underwear onto my bed.
Humming to myself, I quickly stripped and hopped into the shower, reveling in the steaming hot water relaxing my muscles. There really is nothing like a hot shower. Unfortunately, I knew I didn't have much time before the rice burned, so I quickly washed, still taking time to enjoy the soothing effects of my freesia-scented body wash and strawberry shampoo.
Once my personal grooming was complete, and I was dressed once more, I went back into the kitchen where the rice was just reaching perfection. I finished seasoning it, setting it to the side as I dished up the chicken and pulled the brownies from the oven. I popped the naan I had already formed into the warmed oven, watching as it puffed and browned.
With all the cooking complete, I transferred everything to serving dishes and carried it into the dining room. I pulled out Jasper's favorite bamboo placemats and set the table, placing a simple arrangement of orchids in the center surrounded by the food. It was way more than we normally did, but I wanted to help out my best friend as much as possible.
I couldn't resist sampling another piece of chicken and smiled to myself at the spicy flavor. Hopefully Alice would like it – it was Jasper's favorite. Just as I finished up, I heard the front door open and wandered out into the living room to get my first glimpse of Alice.
"So I finally meet the infamous Alice," I grinned, stepping forward as I took in the slight figure standing at the door while Jasper helped her out of her coat. I barely had time to note the way her inky black hair stood up from her scalp in all directions before she suddenly bounded forward and enveloped me in a hug.
Eyes widening, I froze for a second before giving a small smile and returning the hug. Exuberant was right. I glanced at Jasper to see he was smiling at us while Alice proclaimed, "I'm so happy to meet you, Bella! I just know we're going to be great friends!"
My eyebrows climbed further up my forehead, threatening to escape into my hairline. I didn't have girl friends. Period. Jasper laughed quietly as Alice let me go and stepped back, studying me at arms' length with a critical eye.
"Is it laundry day?" she asked.
I had to laugh, and Jasper did too. Alice looked at us curiously for a minute and then joined in tentatively with a confused expression.
"Ah, no," Jasper answered, smiling as he leaned down to kiss Alice's forehead. His eyes closed briefly, and I found myself touched by the simple gesture. It was somehow intimate without being uncomfortable. They looked…right. "Bella likes…casual." He grinned at me, his blue eyes twinkling.
I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at him like a three year old - mostly because he was right. I did like casual. Casual was…comfortable. Safe. I had to dress up for work, and I was always slightly ill-at-ease, wishing for the comfort of my favorite jeans. I lived for casual Fridays.
I shrugged and said, "So, are you guys ready for dinner?"
"Oooh, I'm starving!" Alice said, bouncing up to the balls of her feet.
Watching her enthusiasm almost put me in mind of an overexcited puppy, but there was something so…sincere about her. I didn't get that fake vibe off of her that put me off from most women. This exuberance was just…who she was. I could respect that.
I was beginning to approve. Cautiously.
I led the way into the dining room, pleased when Alice inhaled deeply and proclaimed the smell "yummy". I grinned and watched as Jasper held out her seat for her, sliding it back in like the good gentleman his mama had raised. Even though Jazz left Texas in second grade, Mama Hale was Southern through-and-through, and she made sure both Jasper and his twin Rosalie had impeccable manners.
As we were serving ourselves and settling in to dinner, I resolved to find out everything I could about Alice. She was obviously important to Jasper, and since Jasper was important to me…I suppose that meant Alice was important to me.
I grinned at the heaping servings Alice put on her place. Evidently her size didn't indicate her appetite. Clearing my throat, I said, "So, Alice, Jasper tells me you have a degree in fashion design?"
I blinked as Alice smiled radiantly and launched into a long-winded explanation of fashion that seemed to involve a lot of…god, I don't even know what. I heard some fabrics in there, and maybe an article of clothing or two, but I hope the rest of it was about different designers with foreign names – otherwise, my grasp of the English language was severely failing me as she spoke at warp speed.
She paused here and there to take a bite of her food, raving about the chicken and declaring the naan "heavenly." She asked what type of chicken it was, and when I responded, "Chicken tiki masala," she tilted her head with the same confused expression I'm sure I wore when she filled the rest of the conversation with chatter about clothes and designers.
I chuckled. "Jasper said you liked Asian food and spicy food, so I thought I'd try a little Indian." I shrugged, she beamed at Jasper, and then she picked up right where she left off in the fashion lecture.
Note to self: avoid fashion conversations with Alice. Though the obvious passion she had for it was cute…it reminded me of my obsession with books, and I realized I probably had that sort of dazed look on my face that Jasper always gets when I ramble about my latest find.
When she finally paused to take a break, I quickly changed the subject, "So if you already have a fashion degree, what are you studying at U Dub?" Please, please, please, let it be something intelligible.
The gods were kind, as Alice replied, "Marketing. I want to create my own clothing line eventually."
Impressive. She had goals…that was great to know. "Wow, that's awesome, Alice! How much longer do you have on your marketing degree?"
"A few semesters…" she shrugged. "I'm not really rushing it. I kind of like life right now." She grinned at Jasper as she spoke, and then they both looked down and blushed lightly.
That was new…Jasper never blushes. Ever.
We fell into comfortable conversation after that, eating our dinner and learning about each other. I could tell that Jasper had been…sketchy on the details of my life to Alice because she asked me tons of questions about where I grew up, what I liked, what I hated…as we spoke, I grew to appreciate how Alice's energy perfectly balanced Jasper's calm, relaxed nature and vice versa. In a cheesy moment likely inspired by the Asian-themed bamboo placemats, I was reminded of the yin yang concept, constantly in flux but ever reacting to and bolstering each other. It was refreshing, but I couldn't help but feel a little disconcerted when I realized that they really were perfect together. If this was "it" for Jasper…where would I fit in?
Selfish! The angel on my shoulder chided. Shut up, little goodie bitch! This is our Jasper! The devil answered. I frowned and pushed them both to the side.
It was when she asked how Jasper and I met that I could feel the twinkle in my eyes and the smirk that curled my lips. Jasper groaned.
Alice leaned toward me with a conspiratorial smile, sensing that she was about to learn something about Jasper that he would rather she didn't know.
Jasper tried to cut me off. "When Rose and I were in second grade, my dad was transferred to Washington from Texas to run a new branch of the bank. I met Bella not long after we moved here."
I arched an eyebrow at him and shook my head. No way would he get off that easily.
"So…here I am, in second grade. I'm out on the playground one day when I see Tyler Crowley and this new kid with messy blonde hair. They're standing off to the side, arguing about something, and Tyler keeps pointing at the monkey bars, where some girls are playing. Now, Tyler was never up to any good, so I watched to see what was going on…"
I rolled my eyes. "Then I see this dumbass follow Tyler over. They stand beneath the monkey bars and watch as the girls cross, looking up their skirts!"
Alice interrupted, giggling. "Ohmygod! My boyfriend was an upskirt guy at, like, seven years old?!"
Jasper scowled and said, "It wasn't like that! She's not telling it right." He turned slightly in his chair, facing Alice and looking at her earnestly. "See, I'd just moved, and I didn't know anyone yet…I was kinda desperate to make friends. So this kid comes up to me on the playground and starts talking to me. He told me we should go look up the girls' skirts, and I just sort of went along with it. I remember standing there, wondering what in the world I was supposed to be looking at, when all of a sudden this furious little girl in braids and overalls comes flying over, decks Tyler, and before I could figure out what was going on, I was lying on the ground with blood pouring over my chin!"
"And, by the way, Bella," he smirked, turning his attention to me, "I could see up their skirts much better once I was sprawled out beneath them."
I couldn't help but laugh at Jasper's expression and the memory. Alice, who hadn't stopped giggling since the upskirt comment, broke into full-blown laughter now, and even Jasper joined in with a slight blush.
We talked a bit about growing up together, sharing stories of us and Rosalie and a lot of the sillier things we'd done. Alice was focused on our stories, turning the conversation back to us whenever it slipped onto her family and friends. I think she was eager to find out all she could since she knew Jasper couldn't stop me from telling her whatever I wanted to…and I knew a lot.
When the conversation lingered on high school, I grew uncomfortable. I felt my stomach tighten, and I bit my lip, one arm crossing my torso to hug my other elbow. Not now…please don't make me think about him right now…
But of fucking course, Alice picked up on it, and with concern in her voice, she asked, "Bella? Why don't you like to talk about high school?"
I mumbled something about my parents' divorce and moving to Arizona briefly with my mom. I told her it didn't work out, and I shifted my gaze away from Jasper's sympathetic eyes.
Blue eyes. Heels. Hate. Pain. Rage. Hurt.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I willed myself to avoid the true memories – the flashes were bad enough - pulling myself back into the present to hear Alice's quiet reply.
"I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't mean to bring up anything painful…it must've been hard to lose your mom that way."
I just nodded, not bothering to correct her mistaken assumption that I was upset because I'd had to move away from my mom.
After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Alice said, "So tell me more about Rosalie…are you close to her too?"
I smiled briefly at Alice in thanks and then launched myself back into the conversation with perhaps a touch too much enthusiasm. I explained that while I loved Rosalie, and we were like sisters in many ways, we weren't as close. Jasper and I just…got each other. It was harder with Rose.
Alice nodded and said she understood what I meant, and then she effortlessly carried the conversation onto lighter topics, and with her unspoken concern and caring for me, I realized that I loved her too. A little bit. But I thought it would grow into more. Maybe she would deserve Jasper after all.
We finished dinner and enjoyed our dessert. Alice moaned in pleasure at the brownies, and I grinned in response. When Alice yawned delicately and blinked slowly, Jasper smiled down at her and stood, offering her his hand as he helped her out of her chair.
We said our goodbyes, and this time I was prepared for Alice's hug. I stood in the doorway, waving to them as they got into the car. After watching them pull away, I went back inside, locking the door and the deadbolt before leaning my forehead against the cool wood.
Why can't I ever have a day when I don't think of…? But I didn't want to finish that sentence, even in my thoughts. I lightly beat my forehead against the door over and over before pushing myself back with a sigh and going to get ready for bed.
I was singing along with the radio as I drove home, grinning as I reminisced about my night with Bella and Alice. They had gotten along extremely well, which was a huge relief. They were the two most important people in my life, and well…Bella tended to be a little…unreasonable where girls were concerned sometimes. She obviously liked Alice, though, and Alice…well…Alice…
Grinning stupidly, my thoughts became tangled in the wonderful, delicious mess that was Alice. Mmm…
When I pulled up at home, I could see that every light in the apartment was on.
I really hated it when Bella had nights like this. I felt so…helpless. I'd do anything to keep the nightmares away. And I mean fucking anything. But there was nothing I could do. All I could do was hold her when they were over.
My eyes tightened as I got out of the car and walked slowly toward the door, feeling like a man at his own funeral. We never used the deadbolt, but I knew it would be locked tonight, so I unlocked it first, sighing again when I heard the tumblers moving. Unlocking the door, I went inside, shrugging out of my coat and tossing it on the couch.
I went into the kitchen to wait, grabbing a beer and sitting on the counter with my head hanging down. I knew better than to try to wake her or to go in too early. Past experience and a few scars from scratches had taught me that much.
I blinked back tears when I heard the whimpering start. It grew louder, and I hopped down off the counter, beer forgotten, as I heard the screaming. Steeling myself, I walked down the short hallway to her room, opening the door to see her curled into a ball on the bed, sheets tangled, hands fisted into her hair with her eyes clenched shut. The glaring light from the overhead and two lamps cast her agonized face in excruciating detail.
I approached the bed slowly, speaking in a soothing voice loud enough to be heard. "Bella, sweetheart, it's okay…you're okay. He's gone, Bella…he can't hurt you again. I'm here…" I continued to try to calm her as I lowered myself onto the bed, pulling her into my arms. Slowly, so agonizingly slowly, she began to relax, her screams subsiding to sobs and then whimpers. I stroked her hair, whispering to her when the screaming stopped.
Finally, she opened her eyes and peered up at me, and I gave her a tight smile, kissing her forehead. She threw her arms around me and started sobbing again, but it was alright, now. She was awake, where that fucking asshole couldn't touch her again.